Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Is The Resurrected Jesus So Ordinary?

Critics of Jesus' resurrection often act as if there's little evidence that can be cited for the resurrection outside of the writings of Paul. They're highly dismissive of the resurrection accounts in the gospels and Acts. That's probably largely because those narratives are so inconsistent with skeptical theories. Jesus' resurrection body is touched, He eats with people, etc. But there are some good reasons for trusting those accounts. They include details unlikely to have been fabricated, for example, like the prominence of female witnesses.

One line of evidence in the narratives that's often neglected is the nature of Jesus' resurrection body. In all of the gospels with resurrection narratives and the first chapter of Acts, the resurrection body is portrayed as not much different than an ordinary body prior to death. In contrast, resurrected individuals and other exalted figures are portrayed much differently in other sources written prior to and after the gospels and Acts and even within those five documents themselves. As Jonathan Kendall explains:

"This is another feature mitigating against the possibility of legendary embellishment, especially since even the angels in the post-resurrection narratives are in a couple of places described as wearing very radiant, white garments (Matthew 28:2-3; Luke 24:4)....[Jake] O'Connell notes that Second-Temple literature regarding the exaltation of saints, the appearances of the exalted Jesus to Paul, Stephen, and John of Patmos, Jesus' coming as the glorious Son of Man (cf. Mark 13:26; 14:62), as well as his role per the early church as the High Priestly Messiah would make fabricated or legendary accounts of Jesus' resurrection all the more likely to come in the form of heavenly visions....Rather, playing on the fact that collective visions invariably carry as a pre-requisite the role of expectation, O'Connell argues at length that at least some of the disciples should have seen Jesus in exalted, glorious form (e.g. Acts 9:3; Revelation 1:9-20) if they were hallucinating....O'Connell utilizes numerous texts to demonstrate that the resurrection body was generally expected to be glorious in nature." (in J.P. Holding, ed., Defending The Resurrection [United States: Xulon Press, 2010], pp. 327, 352)

Think of Daniel 12:3, 2 Maccabees 15:13, Matthew 13:43, Mark 9:3, etc. Why do all of the gospel authors agree in departing from how resurrected individuals and other exalted figures were expected to appear? If the first stage of Jesus' resurrection was more mundane, and it wasn't until later that He appeared in a more glorious manner, then this agreement of the gospels and Acts makes sense. They're reporting what actually happened, and what actually happened was a departure from common expectation. But how likely is it that the authors would have agreed in fabricating such an unusual scenario? Or that some prior source they all relied on would have made up such a scenario, then gotten all of the relevant sources to accept it?

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